Don’t reduce black protesters in Ferguson to stereotypes

By Miles Brown
Aug. 24, 2014

Citizens of Ferguson, Mo. ask for peace. Carrie Z/Flickr.

Citizens of Ferguson, Mo. ask for peace. Carrie Z/Flickr.

My mind has been in a state of perpetual overload with the craziness that is Ferguson, Mo.  This frenetic week has been filled with cable television shouting matches and conflicting reports that people have been chasing like mice to cheese.

Not many people actually understand that the people of Ferguson are not just protesting Michael Brown’s death . The real, deeply-rooted issue is White America’s lack of knowledge regarding the Black experience in this country. I’m positive this goes vice/versa too. I’m not an expert on White America by any means. The difference is that our lack of knowledge doesn’t control the narrative.

Three widely perpetuated stereotypes that have popped up in Ferguson are so maddeningly inaccurate that they need to be addressed head-on:

1. We all don’t love Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.

People act like every Black person prays to a Jackson/Sharpton shrine five times a day. Right wingers talk about these two like they’re the official Black spokespeople. I think they’re race pimps who only come around when it’s lucrative, but never to promote the positives within the Black community. I’m sure I’m not the only one who shares those sentiments.

Look, I'm working!

Look, I’m working!

2. We aren’t all lazy, not looking for work.

Regarding the Ferguson protestors, this stereotype has been pushed by the likes of late 90s megastar Kevin Sorbo and 2008 presidential election footnote Sam “Joe the plumber” Wurzelbacher. I guess it’s an attempt vilify the entire community and a way to justify Michael Brown’s killing.

In reality, a lot of the people I graduated high school with are predominately Black and are starting their own businesses and trying better their lives. If they’re not actively looking for work or already have a job, they’re looking for second, sometimes even third jobs. It’s not a lack of desire that’s keeping people from finding work in the inner city. It’s a lack of opportunities that really hold these communities back. So yeah, we do too work you guys! See?!

3. We don’t all support the looting in Ferguson.

The news cycle has been dominated with stories about these looters and how many of them have criminal records. We’re not all criminals. Just because someone who happens to have the same skin color as me robs a store, doesn’t mean that I have the propensity to do so as well. It sucks to be judged based on what other people do — and it’s not fair either. There has been coverage of volunteers cleaning up the damages caused by these looters and  brave protesters standing up to the looters and blocking store fronts. Unfortunately, most of these positive stories have been  buried in favor of the more antagonizing clickbait headlines of looters.

While these three things might seem obviously absurd to anyone who has simply spoken to a person from the inner city in the last year, the sad fact is that the people who are making the decisions on this coverage haven’t had those conversations. Certain people would rather be comfortable with these stereotypes than confront reality, and because people assume that these stereotypes are true they then become engrained in the consciousness of the larger society. This is incredibly harmful and paints Blacks with a broad brush.

According to the Pew Research Center, there is still a stark contrast between those who believe there are serious racial issues in this country to be resolved and those who don’t. Just look at this chart:

Pew Ferguson Poll

This chart tells me that my experiences do not matter to the larger White society. It’s very hard to talk about problems when the people you’re talking with don’t even agree that there’s a problem in the first place.

What we need to do if we want to tackle race issues in this country is to treat it like a 12 step program — something that demands our attention, and follows a set plan. We all know the first step is to admit that there’s a problem. Once that’s done, we can finally work on step two together.

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Posted by on August 24, 2014. Filed under Media,Race,Recent News,Social Justice,Top News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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